Updated: Apr 5, 2021
"We need to let people know we still see them. We see them, even if we cannot wrap our arms around them. As I sit here alone, feeling somewhat invisible, and questioning everything…see me."
What makes us who we are?
That is a complex equation. Part of our identity is formed by our interactions with others. If no one sees us, who are we? These existential musings have started running through my mind. After a year spending almost all my time alone, I feel my sense of self shifting. I am a strong confident person. I know my place in the world, yet this situation has had a profound effect on me. It is like the proverb: if a tree falls in the forest, and there’s nobody around to hear, does it make a sound.
If nobody sees me, do I exist? I realize if you are reading this, even if you can’t see me, you know I am here. That unto itself provides a form of validation, but I sometimes fear parts of me are slipping away. It feels like a brush with invisibility, or some strange technical glitch. The adverse effects of time away from normalcy is taking its toll. In the past few weeks I have begun to feel new and unexpected sensations. I presume it is the absence of social contact, and having even the most casual interactions altered. A lot of the time, when we are around others, even strangers, we are now masked. It only stands to reason it has changed things like understanding, meaning, and ease.
I have also started questioning spatial relations. I struggle with self-awareness, and have doubts about many basic cognitive cues. It’s like my body language and gestures are being controlled by marionette strings. When I am around people, I wonder about the appropriateness of my eye contact, and facial expressions. I am not quite sure my voice is appropriately modulated. I have laughed to myself because it seems ridiculous to wonder if I am acting normal. It feels so abstract, and trippy. I realize this will likely pass as my interactions expand, but it has made me question myself in ways I never have.
Our formative years shape our cognitive, social, emotional, and physical development. The people in our lives contribute to our identity. Our experiences, both good and bad, have a long-lasting impact. Trauma can even be passed from generation to generation. I wonder what the long-term impact of this situation will be. There are volumes of academic studies about the effects of solitary confinement on prison inmates. Our experiences live inside of us, so we will undoubtedly carry this with us longterm. I am sure we will soon be studied, and will be a part of history, perhaps as an unfortunate footnote.
As I write this, I am filled with conflicting emotions. I feel a deep and unrelenting discomfort caused by forced confinement. Nothing I have gone through before prepared me for it. I had never been away from people for so long. I could not have imagined being stripped of socialization, work, or my other pursuits. When we went into lockdown last year, it was like entering a fog. At this point it is like being in the grasp of a parasitic alien feeding on my precarious energy at will. It can sometimes take the fight right out of me.
I understand some people cope well, or even thrive in solitude. I am not wired that way. Despite the difficulties, I must also acknowledge the lessons. I actually have a lot of gratitude for the growth. It has been immense. One thing I have learned is there is no currency for which I would trade human contact. I can now answer the question: would you live in a cabin in the woods by yourself for a year for a million dollars? The answer is no. For me, there is no substitute for people. I have also realized I have to pick myself up and carry on even when I feel defeated. I see new pathways like a matrix in front of me. I’ve been forced to approach life differently. In time, I suspect even more benefits will be apparent. Growth is always positive, no matter how, or why it occurs. Being alone so much is undoubtedly the main reason I have new insights.
I am confident there is a way through the fog. If we believe we will emerge stronger, and maybe even better, it will help us keep our momentum. We will certainly be altered, and we will bear the scars, but I have to believe we can come out of it as better people. In the meantime, we need to continue to show immense compassion towards others. We need to dispense empathy in enormous quantities. We need to exhibit patience for the changed pace of the world. We need to acknowledge there may be obstacles others are trying to overcome we simply don't understand, and not judge them.
We need to let people know we still see them. We see them, even if we cannot wrap our arms around them. As I sit here alone, feeling somewhat invisible, and questioning everything…
I’m still here.